Enthusiasts trace the vibrancy of tabletop games to the mid-1990s, when Settlers of Catan, a German game in which players establish colonies on a fictional island, helped kick off a renaissance in board game design. The wave of "Euro games," which tend to emphasize strategy and competition for scarce resources rather than combat, that followed added a dash of creativity to a category, populated with familiar names like Monopoly and Clue, that many people considered tired.
But in recent years, the momentum has accelerated. Gen Con, a four-day tabletop game conference being held in Indianapolis this August, took 15 years to grow to 30,000 attendees from 20,000. In the last three years, it has grown to 49,000 from 30,000, according to Mr. Adkison, who owns the convention. Hasbro, which publishes Monopoly, Battleship and Trivial Pursuit, has seen sales in its games category grow in recent years, including 10 percent last year from the year before.
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Events like Gen Con and the visibility of board gaming is part of a growing celebration of so-called geek culture that is often associated with hard-core fans.
"We're definitely in this moment of the fetishization of geek," said Yancey Strickler, Kickstarter's chief executive. "And everyone is running out to talk about their geek cred."
Somewhat ironically, perhaps, video game players are often among the biggest devotees of tabletop games. Some in the business believe that is no accident, theorizing that the abundance of opportunities to connect electronically with people through games and social media has also created a hunger — sated by tabletop games — for face-to-face contact.
"It turns out that being together is very addictive," said Jerry Holkins, a creator of Penny Arcade Expo, or PAX, a series of video game conferences that dedicate about a third of their exhibition space to tabletop gaming.
Still, the gaming community often finds its way back online, too. Wil Wheaton, an actor and blogger, hosts Tabletop, a popular show on YouTube and other online channels, in which celebrities and others play board games against one another.
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"I want to put more gamers in the world," Mr. Wheaton said.
At his home in Mercer Island, a Seattle suburb, Mr. Shapiro recently played a spirited round of Robot Turtles with his twins, a boy and a girl. The children, who are 5, had to navigate a maze created by Mr. Shapiro on a grid to reach gemstone cards.
With determined expressions on their faces, they selected cards to move their pieces around the board, pushing or destroying obstacles in their way. Those pieces, Mr. Shapiro said, are intended to represent the commands of a computer program.
Mr. Shapiro, who has signed a deal with a publisher, ThinkFun, to continue making the game, said he was still shocked by its success. But he said he created the game for a simple reason: so his family had a way to play together.
"This came from, 'I want to do something fun with my kids,' " he said.
—By Nick Wingfield of The New York Times